Free rides for students have been restricted to the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2), as the government can no longer afford to lose revenues for rail maintenance, said Transportation Undersecretary Cesar Chavez on Wednesday (July 13).
This is why the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 and the Philippine National Railways have been removed from the “Libreng Sakay” program.
“The President arrived at the decision to offer free rides for students just at the LRT-2. Based on our records, we lost P515.9 million from the three months of Libreng Sakay at MRT-3,” Chavez told The Philippine Star, adding that the goal is to slowly phase out free rides at all rail lines.
He added that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) projects a student ridership of only 1,400 every day on the MRT-3, compared with more than 4,500 at the LRT-2 using pre-pandemic figures.
Therefore, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. decided to focus the free ride service on the LRT-2, especially as it traverses the university belt.
In addition, the government already pays for some 80 percent of the rail fare collected from PNR passengers. It costs the PNR up to P362 to transport a commuter from Tutuban to Calamba, but the route that spans nearly 60 kilometers costs each commuter only P60.
“The daily passenger count at the PNR reaches as high as 80,000 before the pandemic. Right now, the rail line just services more or less 25,000 per day. Given this, we want to allow PNR to recover the revenues it lost to the pandemic,” said Chavez.
Fare discounts for students
Marcos also ordered the DOTr to study how fare discounts can be given to students, with a special focus on how station turnstiles can identify student Beep cards to apply the mandatory 20 percent discount.
According to data obtained by The Star, the government lost P515.91 million in revenues from the MRT-3’s Libreng Sakay, although nearly 29 million passengers benefitted from the program during its run from March 28 to June 30.
After coming into office, Marcos approved the DOTr’s proposal to grant free rides for students on the MRT-3, LRT-2 and PNR in support of the resumption of in-person classes on August 22.
Separately, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) is also planning to add more routes for public utility jeepneys and buses in time for the full implementation of face-to-face classes.
Additional routes for public utility vehicles, among others, will be discussed at the next inter-agency meeting. Improving the EDSA Carousel, which was recently extended for free bus rides until December by the new administration, is also on the agenda.